Ralph Connor

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Ralph Connor
Charles W. Gordon.jpg
Born Charles William Gordon
(1860-09-13)September 13, 1860
Died October 31, 1937(1937-10-31) (aged 77)
Pen name Ralph Connor

Rev. Dr. Charles William Gordon, or Ralph Connor, (September 13, 1860 – October 31, 1937) was a Canadian novelist, using the Connor pen name while maintaining his status as a Church leader, first in the Presbyterian and later the United churches in Canada. Gordon was also at one time a master at Upper Canada College. He sold more than five million copies of his works in his lifetime,[1] and some of his works are still in print.

Gordon was born in Glengarry County, Ontario, the son of Rev. Daniel Gordon (1822–1910) and Mary Robertson Gordon (d. 1890). His father was a Free Church of Scotland Missionary in Upper Canada. The family moved from Glengarry to Harrington, Oxford County, Ontario when he was a youth. Like many other young men in the area, Gordon went to Toronto to study at University of Toronto. He then attended Knox College and graduated with distinction in 1886.

Ministerial career[edit]

With a brother and two Knox College classmates he travelled to Scotland and Europe and spent a term of study in Edinburgh. He was ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1890.[1] He moved to Alberta, then still part of the Northwest Territories, and he served a large area west of Calgary that today includes the municipalities of Banff and Canmore. He served in the Rocky Mountains until 1894. The congregation in Canmore is called Ralph Connor Memorial United Church in remembrance of his time there.

He moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba where he would spend nearly 40 years as minister of St. Stephen's Presbyterian/United Church, which was a new congregation when he arrived. During these 40 years he also wrote in Kenora, Ontario on Lake of the Woods.[2]

Near the start of the First World War, in 1915 he became Chaplain of the 43rd (Cameron Highlanders) Battalion CEF (see The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada). In 1916 he was made senior chaplain of Canadian Forces in England with the rank of Major. He then proceeded to France as senior chaplain, 9th Brigade, British Expeditionary Force. He was mentioned in Imperial despatches.

After returning from Europe, he was Moderator of the 1921 Presbyterian General Assembly and became a strong advocate for union of the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational Churches in Canada. In June 1925, he was on the podium during the final benediction of the Presbyterian Church General Assembly at Toronto's College Street Church. He encouraged the organist to play Handel's Hallelujah Chorus as loudly as possible to drown out the sound of protests from a group who called themselves "Continuing Presbyterians" who had gathered in the front corner of the assembly hall to vote on resuming nearby later that evening.

Writing career[edit]

Gordon became interested in writing during his student days at the University of Toronto. He published his first novel, Black Rock, in 1898. While the book was moderately successful in Canada, his second novel, The Sky Pilot, gained him international attention in 1899 and sold more than 1,000,000 copies. The Sky Pilot, like many of his works, was a frontier adventure with strong themes of morality and justice. He continued to write until his death in 1937. His autobiography, Postscript to Adventure was penned in his final year and published posthumously in 1938.

Ralph Connor House[edit]

Ralph Connor House is a heritage property designated as a National Historic Site of Canada,[3] a Provincial Heritage Site[4] and a Winnipeg Landmark Heritage Structure.[5]

From humble parishioners to Hollywood movie stars, the home welcomed people from all over the world, attracted to Reverend Gordon who had gained international acclaim for his good works and stardom as one of the world's best selling novelists of the time. Designed by architect, George W. Northwood; the home was not only built to accommodate the Gordon's large family, but also served as the St. Stephen's parish office for the Presbyterian minister.[6]

While Reverend Gordon's writing had made him a wealthy man in the early part of the 20th century, the Great Depression and financial problems had taken their toll and the family was forced to surrender the House to the City of Winnipeg. In 1939, the University Women’s Club saved the vacant Ralph Connor House from demolition and eventually bought it from the City in 1945. The Club continued its focus on intellectual pursuits and community activity. It has been the most ardent and long-term participant in its preservation.

In 1949, the Club established the Ralph Connor Trust Fund to provide for building maintenance and repairs. The Fund has spent $400,000 since 1981 to maintain and repair the House, including foundation underpinnings and new copper plumbing. But the fund was not designed to cover the scale of work now required to meet present-day fire and safety regulations and other needed functional improvements.

The Friends of Ralph Connor House was established in 2003 as a registered charity and became the official owner of the House with a focus on the care and preservation of the building.

Death[edit]

He died on October 31, 1937. His brother, Dr. H. F. Gordon, predeceased him by 24 hours.

Publications[edit]

In 1972, the National Library of Canada released The Works of Ralph Connor which listed some 43 titles as well as three books for which he wrote the introductions. His publications include:

  • The Angel and the Star. Toronto, Revell, 1908
  • The Arm of Gold. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1932
  • Beyond the Marshes. Toronto, Westminster, 1898
  • Black Rock, a Tale of the Selkirks. Toronto, Westminster, 1898
  • Breaking the Record. New York, Revell, 1904
  • The Prospector. New York, Revell, 1904
  • The Doctor, Revell, 1906
  • The Man from Glengarry, 1901
  • The Girl from Glengarry, New York, Dodd, Mead & company, 1933
  • Glengarry School Days, Grosset, 1902
  • The Foreigner, Hodder & Stoughton, 1909
  • The Gay Crusader, Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1936
  • To Him That Hath, George H. Doran Company, 1921
  • The Major, c. 1919
  • Postscript to Adventure, Farrar & Rinehart, inc., 1938
  • The Rebel Loyalist, Dodd, 1935
  • The Rock and the River, Dodd, Mead, 1931
  • The Runner, Doubleday, Doran and Co.
  • The Sky Pilot, 1899
  • Torches through the BushDodd, Mead, 1934

Legacy[edit]

The United Church in Canmore, Alberta, founded as a Presbyterian Church by Dr. Gordon in 1891, was renamed Ralph Connor Memorial United Church in 1942.[7] Gordon United Church, founded in 1956 in Victoria, British Columbia, was named in his honour. Charles Gordon Sr. Public School in Scarborough, Ontario was also named after him. At his death Connor/Gordon left his wife and seven children. Among the latter were Professor King Gordon of Montreal, Mrs. Humphrey Carver of Toronto, Mrs. Arthur B. Brown of Toronto, Lois Gordon of Montreal and Allison and Ruth Gordon of Winnipeg. His extensive personal papers are kept at the University of Winnipeg.

Some of his books, including Black Rock, The Man from Glengarry and Glengarry School Days are still in print.[8]

His grandchildren include journalist and humorist Charles Gordon[9] and sportswriter and mystery novelist Alison Gordon.[10]

Further reading[edit]

John Lennox, Charles W. Gordon (“Ralph Connor”) and his Works, Toronto: ECW Press, 1989

Notes[edit]

External links[edit]